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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2005, Vol. 5 No. 1 .

Memories of Violence: Civil Patrols and the Legacy of Conflict in Joyabaj, Guatemala,
Simone Remijnse

Netherlands, Rozenberg, 2003, ?22.50 pp. 336, ISBN 905170674X.

?Guatemala?s agents of terror largely overlap with the actual target of violence. Civil patrollers were part of the population that was targeted by the military. They were, however, also the ones who had to carry out these acts of violence. The roles of victim, perpetrator and bystander were therefore constantly blurred? (p. 26).

Memories of Violence will be of interest to scholars of peace and conflict studies for a number of different reasons. One reason is that the civil patrols, which form the focus of Remijnse?s study, were unusual perpetrators of pro-state violence. Unlike the case of other pro-state paramilitary organizations, participation in civil patrols was enforced by the state, rather than being a voluntary act of the patrollers. One consequence, as Remijnse points out in the quote which opens this review, is that issues of responsibility are obscured. Remijnse?s research monograph also displays sensitivity to the differences between processes at the national level and at the local level. She points out, for example, that there was considerable variation in the form and operation of civil patrols at the local level. Remijnse also indicates the complex ways in which experience of violence, participation in civil patrols and attitudes towards the political violence of the past were structured by a range of factors such as ethnicity, religion, socio-economic status and gender. She points out, for example, that some of the wealthier ladinos (decedents of European settlers) were able to pay someone to take over their shift and that this ?money was a welcome addition to the meager household budget of many Joyabateco families? (p. 161).

The civil patrols are the main institution which Remijnse focuses on. The main focus of the book, however, is the memories of the civil war. In this focus, the book joins an ever growing range of studies of memory and violent conflict. Memories of Violence adds to this literature through providing more evidence of the ways in which memories are influenced by experiences. The enforced nature of involvement was emphasized by many of those who Remijnse interviewed. This was particularly emphasized in relation to a particularly brutal massacre in the region. Remijnse notes that interviewees ?did not deny that the massacre happened, nor denied their presence at it, but they did deny having actively participated in it? (p. 156). They tended to narrate this event as observers in contrast ?with the normal behaviour of putting oneself at the centre of a memory that is narrated? (p. 156). The book also demonstrates how recall of memories is influenced by context so that, for example, the work of Guatemalan truth commissions not only gathered memories of the civil war, but also ?influenced people?s memories of the past, what they wanted to tell and what they did not want to tell? (p. 252). Finally, the inclusion of a useful historical background chapter makes the book accessible to those, including this reviewer, with no prior knowledge of the Guatemalan civil war.

Chris Gilligan, University of Ulster, Lecturer, Sociology

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